Air Pollution in Indian Cities

Air Pollution in Indian Cities


A report released by The Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC) shows that out of the 50 most polluted cities in the world, 39 are in India. Pollution directly affects the health of people, and an average Indian loses 5.3 years of his life expectancy due to this.

Important points:

  1. Emissions from Vehicles: The combustion of fossil fuels in cars, trucks, and other motorized vehicles releases pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter into the air. Vehicular emission contributes 20-30% of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 at the breathing level of air quality.
  2. Industrial Activities: They emit a variety of pollutants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous chemicals, and particulate matter, which can degrade air quality. A report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) indicates that only 5% of India’s coal-based thermal power capacity complies with the sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions norms.
  3. Agricultural Practices: Agricultural activities, such as the use of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as livestock farming, release ammonia and methane into the atmosphere, contributing to air pollution. Air pollution in North India worsens due to farm fires in Punjab, Haryana & UP.
  4. Construction and Demolition: They generate dust and emissions from heavy machinery, leading to localized air pollution in urban areas. Construction has emerged as a key contributing factor to Mumbai’s air pollution, affecting the city’s AQI.
  5. Waste Disposal: Improper disposal of solid waste, particularly open burning of waste, leads to the release of harmful chemicals and particulate matter into the air.
  6. Natural Sources: Natural sources, such as wildfires, volcanic eruptions, and dust storms, can release large amounts of particulate matter and gases into the atmosphere. Volcanic Smog (vog) is produced from SO2 gas and is a hazard.
  7. Deforestation: The clearing of forests and land-use changes not only reduce the planet’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide but also contribute to increased dust and soil erosion, which can lead to air pollution.
  8. Chemical Reactions: Certain chemical reactions in the atmosphere, such as the formation of ground-level ozone, can create secondary pollutants (include atmospheric ozone, particulate matter, acid rain and other toxic chemicals) that impact air quality.
  9. Climate Conditions: Atmospheric conditions like temperature inversions can trap pollutants close to the ground, leading to smog (mixture of smoke and fog) and worsened air quality.
  10. Construction and Urban Development: Rapid urbanization and construction activities can lead to increased emissions, dust, and habitat destruction.
  11. Household Sources: Indoor activities such as cooking with solid fuels, tobacco smoking, and the use of certain cleaning products can release indoor air pollutants, affecting indoor and, in some cases, outdoor air quality.
A “pollution break” in Delhi involves temporary measures, such as suspending construction, vacationing, or closing schools, to mitigate the impact of severe air pollution in the city.

Important Initiatives:

  1. Graded Response Action Plan (Delhi): A comprehensive action plan for Delhi to combat air pollution, with measures varying based on pollution severity.
  2. Polluter Pay Principle: A policy where those causing pollution are financially responsible for the damage, encouraging pollution reduction.
  3. Smog Tower: Large air purification system to clean urban air, particularly in areas with high pollution.
  4. Tallest Air Purifier: Tall structures using advanced tech to filter and purify the air in urban environments. A giant 25-meter-tall air purification tower has been installed in Chandigarh to combat air pollution.
  5. National Clean Air Programme (NCAP): Indian government initiative to reduce air pollution and enhance air quality in various cities.
  6. BS-VI Vehicles: Vehicles compliant with stringent Bharat Stage VI emissions standards, reducing harmful emissions. The BS6 norms were implemented in India from April 1, 2020, and replaced the previous BS4 norms.
  7. New Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region (NCR): A government agency responsible for air quality management and compliance enforcement.
Concerns regarding the Commission for Air Quality Management:1.      Central government’s concentration of power.

2.      Criticism of Commission’s membership lacking adequate representation for environmental bodies and NGOs, with a majority of bureaucrats.

3.      State governments having limited representation compared to the central government.

4.      Worries about the extensive powers given to the CAQM.

5.      Dissolution of the EPCA, removing air pollution issues from the judiciary’s oversight.

  1. Turbo Happy Seeder (THS): Agricultural tool reducing air pollution by enabling no-burn planting of seeds. (Punjab Implementing this)
  2. System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR): Program offering air quality forecasts and information for informed decision-making (introduced by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES).
  3. Dashboard for Monitoring Air Quality: Real-time platform for monitoring air quality and pollution levels.
  4. National Air Quality Index (AQI): Standardized index conveying air quality information, indicating pollution levels and health impacts.
The National Air Quality Index (AQI) is provided by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in India.
  1. Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981: Indian law regulating industries and vehicles to prevent and control air pollution.
  2. Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY): Government scheme providing free LPG connections to reduce indoor air pollution from traditional cooking fuels. Over 14 crore gas cylinder refills were provided to PMUY (Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana) beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. The Crop Residue Management Scheme: It was introduced to address air pollution in Delhi and the National Capital Region caused by stubble burning in nearby states like Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. It provides financial assistance to individual farmers and cooperatives for the purchase of machinery to manage crop residue in the field.
In October 2020, the Supreme Court appointed Justice Lokur committee to oversee and reduce stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.
  1. Space Technology role in Air Pollution: Researchers used machine learning, Sentinel-5P satellite, and Google Earth Engine (GEE) to monitor air pollution globally. Sentinel-5P tracked air pollutants and chemical conditions from 2018-21, while GEE’s cloud computing platform analysed this data.

Comparison between air pollution implications for urban poor and rural poor:


Urban Poor

Rural Poor

Exposure They face higher exposure to outdoor air pollution from traffic, industries, and construction activities. They encounter outdoor pollution from agricultural activities and indoor pollution from using solid fuels for cooking.
Health Risks Urban poor are at a higher risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases due to prolonged exposure to outdoor pollutants. They also face health risks, with indoor pollution affecting their respiratory health, in addition to potential agricultural impacts.
Living Conditions In urban areas, living conditions may be crowded, with limited green spaces, which can worsen the impact of air pollution. Living conditions in rural areas vary but may include limited access to sanitation and healthcare.
Access to Healthcare They generally have better access to healthcare services, but affordability remains a concern. Access to healthcare services is limited in rural areas, making it challenging to address pollution-related health issues.
Agricultural Impact They typically don’t engage in agriculture but may face challenges related to food security. Agricultural livelihoods can be affected by air pollution, harming their crops and livestock.

Important Data:

  1. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that approximately 7 million people die each year due to breathing in tiny, harmful particles found in polluted air.
  2. Data from the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecast and Research (SAFAR), a part of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, indicates that Mumbai has recorded its poorest Air Quality Index (AQI) on record. Mumbai is experiencing a four-year high in air pollution, with high levels of particulate matter (PM-10) and temperature.
  3. World Cities Day is celebrated on October 31. The theme for World Cities Day is “Financing Sustainable Urban Future for All.”
  4. The National Pollution Control Day or National Pollution Prevention Day is observed in India on December 2 every year.
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